Marine wins over Senate committee with candid take on
problems in Iraq
By Otto Kreisher COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – The man
nominated to be the next Marine Corps commandant told a
Senate committee yesterday that the decisions to disband
the Iraqi army and to bar all members of Saddam Hussein's
Baath party from holding government jobs left U.S.
commanders with too few troops and duties for which they
were not prepared.
In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed
Services Committee, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway lived up to
his reputation for being brutally candid. He won glowing
praise from the committee leaders and a promise of easy
questions, Conway, who commanded the Camp Pendleton-based
1st Marine Expeditionary Force in the initial assault of
Operation Iraqi Freedom and in the later attempt to pacify
volatile Anbar province, said he had “sufficient forces to
win (Operation Iraqi Freedom) quickly.”
But, he continued, the military had planned on having
the Iraqi army to help control the country after the
collapse of Hussein's regime. “When the Iraqi army was not
returned to duty, I was obligated to spread my forces,”
Conway said. “I didn't have enough troops to cover the
Pressed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on what could
have been done better in Iraq, Conway said there were many
former Baath members holding government positions who
“didn't have blood on their hands” and should have been
left in their jobs.
When the military could not depend on those Iraqis to
run the government services, “we had to resort to
makeshift,” he added.
Those decisions by Coalition Provisional Authority
administrator Paul Bremer, who was appointed by President
Bush, disrupted the military's prewar planning for the
occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, Conway said.
A number of recent analyses have concluded that the
bloody insurgency that has killed more than 2,500
Americans and wounded more than 18,000 could have been
better mitigated if there had been more security forces
and more Iraqis involved in the days after Baghdad fell.
Conway, currently serving as operations director for
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believed it still was
possible to begin reducing U.S. forces in Iraq, despite
the upsurge in sectarian violence. He said it was
essential the Iraqis know they have to assume
responsibility for their security and that U.S. troops
Conway said he believed the investigation into the
alleged murder by Camp Pendleton-based Marines of unarmed
Iraqi civilians in Haditha was nearly completed. A
separate probe into how Marine commanders handled reports
of that incident is being reviewed by Army Gen. George
Casey, the top commander in Iraq, and Lt. Gen. John
Sattler, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force commander.
Asked about the Marines' combat readiness, Conway said
troops in Iraq are fully equipped and ready. “But that
comes at a cost” of leaving units in the United States
short of equipment, he added.
He repeated statements by the current commandant, Gen.
Michael W. Hagee, that the Corps needed an extra $11
billion a year to replace or repair equipment lost or worn
out in Iraq.
Conway also told the committee the Marines needed to
keep their current level of 180,000 personnel to sustain
the heavy pace of operations, instead of reverting to
175,000 as the Bush administration proposed.
Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., assured Conway
of a quick confirmation and said Conway would take over
the top Marine post in November. Hagee's four-year term
normally would end in January, but the Marines want an
early turnover so Conway can be prepared to present the
next budget in February.